Agriculture is a major industry in New Zealand, contributing approximately 5% ($10.6 billion) to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 4879 Total agricultural exports alone brought in over $28 billion 4880  as at year ending 30 June 2016.  This includes over $759 million from raw wool; $6.77 billion from meat; $12.1 billion from dairy, other animal products $812 million and livestock exports $242 million.  Total primary industry exports including forestry, horticulture and other amounted to over $34.78 billion.  Each of these industries are crucial to the economic and social fabric of rural communities, districts and regions; and to wider New Zealand.

The Primary Industries are also among our country’s largest employers, directly employing an estimated 136,500 people in 2012 with many more employed in service and related industries. 4881

As of 2015, there was 13.9 million hectares of farming land in New Zealand, 4882 of which 7.8 million hectares is in grassland, 2.4million hectares is in tussock or danthonia, 1.6 million hectares is in plantations and 2.1 million hectares is in other land.  Thera are approximately 55,250 holdings in New Zealand, with an average size of 252 hectares.

Fast facts: 4883

  • 44% of farms in NZ are classified as ‘sheep and beef’ compromising 9,328,000 hectares;
  • 21% are classified as dairy farms, with an agricultural area of 2,415,000 hectares;
  • 15% is horticultural and orchards;
  • 5% is crop farming, covering 284,000 hectares; and
  • 6% is mixed livestock.

Meat and wool 

As of 30 June 2016, 4884 there are approximately 27.58 million sheep and 3.47 million beef cattle in New Zealand.  The major sheep breeds in the North Island and southern districts of the South Island is the Romney. Merino are the predominant breed in the South Island High Country; while the remainder of the South Island utilisesCorriedale and Halfbred sheep. 71% of beef cattle are farmed in the North Island with approximate percentages of breeds being Angus cattle 37%, Friesian 14%, Hereford 10% and the remaining being other breeds, mixed or cross breeds. 4885


New Zealand dairy companies are trusted suppliers of a full range of dairy products, including fresh milk, milk powder, high-value dairy nutritional products, specialised dairy ingredients for food service, and infant formulas. 

In 2015, dairy products contribution to total exportstotalled$14.2 billion (21 percent of exports) 4886  As at 30 June 2016, the total cow population in New Zealand was 4.998 million, a small decrease of 0.4% over the previous season. The average herd size is currently 419 cows, with the stocking rate of 2.85 cows per hectare was similar to previous seasons. 

Over the 2015/16 year, dairy companies processed 20.9 billion litres of milk containing 1.86 billion kilograms of milksolids. Total milksolids processed decreased by 1.5% from the 1.89 billion kilograms processed in the previous season. The milk production volume in 2015/16 was 47 percent higher than 2005/06. 4887

Fast facts: 4888  

  • New Zealand accounts for 3% of total world production of dairy;
  • New Zealand exports about 95% of its dairy production;
  • In the year to June 2016, dairy was New Zealand's largest export sector (18% of total goods and service exports);
  • New Zealand exported NZ$ 12.4 billion worth of dairy products in the year ending June 2016;
  • The top five markets for New Zealand dairy exports are: China, United States, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Japan;
  • New Zealand's top four dairy export products are: whole milk powder (37%), cheese (12%), skim milk powder (10%), and butter (9%); and 
  • Protein products, UHT milk, and infant formula accounted for 21% of New Zealand dairy exports in 2015, up from 16% in 2013

The organic dairy sector in New Zealand is growing, with dairy now one of New Zealand's major organic exports. In early 2016, organic milk powder was selling for more than NZ$14,000 per tonne compared to the price of conventional whole milk powder of NZ$3158. 4890 New Zealand currently has 25,000 dairy cows under organic management. 4891 The largest share is with Fonterra, the world’s second largest farmer-owned cooperative, with most of the remaining organic dairy farms being members of the Organic Hub.


For the year ending September 2016, total deer industry exports were $245 million. 4889  This includes venison exports, velvet exports, deer hides, leather receipts and co-products.  24% of all venison exports goes to Germany, while China remains the biggest velvet export destination.




  1. Statistics New Zealand - Economic performance of the agricultural industry - Published 21 October 2015

  2. Beef + Lamb NZ Economic Service, Ministry for Primary Industries.

  3. Our Freshwater 2017 State of the Environment Report, page 18 – Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand 

  4. Statistics New Zealand, 2015 Agricultural Production Survey

  5. Statistics New Zealand 2012 Agricultural Census

  6. Beef and Lamb New Zealand Economic Service, Statistics New Zealand

  7. Beef and Lamb New Zealand Economic Service, Statistics New Zealand

  8. Our Freshwater 2017 – State of Environment Reporting – Ministry for the Environment, Statistics NZ

  9. Statistics from New Zealand Dairy Statistics, 2015 – page 16, published in 2016 by Livestock Improvement Corporation Limited & DairyNZ Limited





Last updated at 2:35PM on February 19, 2018